Thailand – United States relations: Wikis


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Thailand – United States relations
Thailand   United States
Map indicating location of Thailand and USA
     Thailand      United States

Thailand – United States relations are bilateral relations between Thailand and the United States.




19th century

Thailand has had relations with the United States since 1833. This was affirmed by former prime minister Samak Sundaravej, who in 2008, met George W. Bush on the "occasion of the celebration of 175th anniversary of Thai–American relations."[1] Thai American immigration also dates to the 1830s.

Treaty of Amity (1966)

Since World War II, the United States and Thailand have developed close relations, as reflected in several bilateral treaties and by both countries' participation in UN multilateral activities and agreements. The principal bilateral arrangement is the 1966 Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations, which facilitates U.S. and Thai companies' economic access to one another's markets. Other important agreements address civil uses of atomic energy, sales of agricultural commodities, investment guarantees, and military and economic assistance.

Proposed FTA (2004–present)

In June 2004 the United States and Thailand initiated negotiations on a free trade agreement which, when concluded, will reduce and eliminate barriers to trade and investment between the two countries. These negotiations were placed on hold following the dissolution of the Thai Parliament in February 2006 and the subsequent coup in September. The new military government issued compulsory licenses for several anti-HIV drugs, effectively ending the FTA negotiations.[2] According to Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political science professor at Chulalongkorn University, this has put bilateral relations on a "back burner".[2]

Security cooperation

U-Tapao Royal Thai Navy Airfield, built by the United States Air Force in Thailand during the Vietnam War, and currently the "only facility in Southeast Asia capable of supporting large-scale logistical operations".[3]

The United States and Thailand are among the signatories of the 1954 Manila pact of the former Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). Article IV(1) of this treaty provides that, in the event of armed attack in the treaty area (which includes Thailand), each member would "act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional processes." Despite the dissolution of the SEATO in 1977, the Manila pact remains in force and, together with the Thanat-Rusk communiqué of 1962, constitutes the basis of U.S. security commitments to Thailand. Thailand continues to be a key security ally in Asia, along with Australia, Japan, the Philippines, and South Korea. In December 2003, Thailand was designated a Major non-NATO ally (MNNA).

Thailand has received U.S. military equipment, essential supplies, training, and assistance in the construction and improvement of facilities and installations for much of the period since 1950. Over recent decades, U.S. security assistance included military training programs carried out in the United States and elsewhere. A small U.S. military advisory group in Thailand oversaw the delivery of equipment to the Royal Thai Armed Forces and the training of Thai military personnel in its use and maintenance. Funding for the International Military Education and Training and the Foreign Military Financing programs, along with selected other programs totaling $29 million, was suspended following the September 19, 2006 coup d'état in Thailand. As part of their mutual defense cooperation over the last decade, Thailand and the United States have developed a vigorous joint military exercise program, which engages all the services of each nation and averages 40 joint exercises per year.

Thailand's U-Tapao Royal Thai Navy Airfield is currently the "only facility in Southeast Asia capable of supporting large-scale logistical operations".[3] Thailand has allowed the US to use U-Tapao to land and refuel across traveling across the Pacific Ocean on the way to US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.[3] According to Global Research, the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake served as a "pretext for strengthening the U.S. military presence" in U-Tapao, which was used as a "command center" for US military and rescue aircraft.[4]

Economic relations

Foreign assistance

Economic assistance has been extended in various fields, including rural development, health, family planning, education, and science and technology. The formal U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) program ended in 1995. However, there are a number of targeted assistance programs which continue in areas of mutually defined importance, including: health and HIV/AIDS programming; refugee assistance; and trafficking in persons. The U.S. Peace Corps in Thailand has approximately 100 volunteers, focused on primary education, with an integrated program involving teacher training, health education, and environmental education.


The United States is Thailand's second largest trading partner after Japan; in 2006 merchandise imports from Thailand totaled $22.5 billion, and merchandise exports totaled $8.2 billion. The U.S., Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, and the European Union are among Thailand's largest foreign investors. American investment, concentrated in the petroleum and chemicals, finance, consumer products, and automobile production sectors, is estimated at $21 billion.

Current bilateral issues


The Burma-Laos-Thailand border comprises the Golden Triange.

Thailand remains a trafficking route for narcotics from the Golden Triangle--the intersection of Burma, Laos, and Thailand—to both the domestic Thai and international markets. The large-scale production and shipment of opium and heroin shipments from Burma of previous years have largely been replaced by widespread smuggling of methamphetamine tablets, although heroin seizures along the border continue to take place with some frequency. The United States and Thailand work closely together and with the United Nations on a broad range of programs to halt illicit drug trafficking and use and other criminal activity. The U.S. supports the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) in Bangkok, which provides counter-narcotics and anti-crime capacity-building programs to law enforcement and judicial officials from a number of regional countries.

According to Barry McCaffrey, a US four-star general, "the excellent U.S.-Thai counter-narcotics relationship has been an enormous success and stimulus for greater regional cooperation".[5]

War on Terrorism

Thailand has also been important to the US War on Terrorism, "providing access to military facilities, sharing information on the movements of terrorist organizations and suspected terrorists, offering military engineering and medical personnel to support reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan".[6] The most visible element of this cooperation was a joint operation between the CIA and Thai police which captured Riduan Isamuddin (better known by his nom de guerre, Hambali) in 2003.[3]

According to Shawn Crispin, the Asia Times Southeast Asia editor, Thailand represents one of the U.S.'s "once strong, now strained bilateral alliances".[7] Crispin surmises that the long history of bilateral cooperation and Thai fears of China's rise enabled Bush to have "his way with Thailand".[7] The US War on Terror combined with Thailands southern Islamic insurgency has created tension, particularly with Thailand's People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD).[7] The U.S. has pressured and enabled Thailand to crackdown on the insurgency with more proactive military force.[8]

In 2008, Thai courts refused to turn over Jamshid Ghassemi, an Iranian national accused of missile parts smuggling to the US, the "first-ever failed extradition" between Thailand and the US.[3] US-Thai friction also increased when Thailand refused to extradite Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, according to Crispin, signally that "Washington is slowly but surely losing influence over its long time strategic ally".[3] Crispin viewed it as "no doubt significant" that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chose to visit Indonesia, but not Thailand, on her first trip to southeast Asia.[3]

Rice subsidies

Rice production in Thailand employs approximately two-thirds of the population, causing friction over US rice subsidies

Since the 1980s, US farm subsidies for rice, along with copyright and patent issues, have constituted the "major problems in U.S.-Thai trade ties".[9] The rice subsidy was one of the primary obstacles to the negotiation of a bilateral FTA.[10] Approximately two-thirds of Thailand's population are rice farmers, and the U.S. subsidy "severely strains U.S.-Thai relations as Bangkok finds itself unable to explain the income lost to its 35 million rice farmers".[9] USDA-funded research to produce variants of Jasmine rice capable of growing in the US are viewed as biopiracy by many Thai rice farmers.[11] In 2005, Thai rice farmers gathered outside the US embassy to chant a "traditional ritual to bring misfortune to enemies".[11] Farmer protests also occurred outside the US embassy during the 2001 WTO ministerial meeting in Doha.[12]

Thai officials "sharply criticized" the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, and retaliated by joining two WTO dispute resolution cases against the US: one against anti-dumping subsidy offsets, and the Shrimp-Turtle Case.[13] According to Oxfam, the US spends $1.3 billion on rice subsidies annually for a crop that costs $1.8 billion to grow, allowing the US to become the second largest global rice exporter (after Thailand) and dump rice at 34% below the cost of production.[11] Following the election of Obama and the 2008 global financial crisis, there are Thai fears of renewed US protectionism.[7]

China's rise

According to Stratfor, "Bangkok's support could prove pivotal for the United States in the years to come, as it presses war against militant Islamic groups in the region and prepares for the expansion of Chinese power".[14] According to Crispin, however, it is "clear that Thailand fails to share the US's threat perception of China's rapid regional rise", trying to maintain strong relations with both the United States and China.[3]


Eric G. John, U.S. Ambassador to Thailand

The U.S. maintains an embassy in Bangkok, one of the largest in the world, and a consulate in the northern city of Chiang Mai. Thailand maintains an embassy in Washington, D.C. and consulates in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials include:

  • Ambassador – Eric G. John
  • Deputy Chief of Mission – James F . Entwistle
  • Political Affairs Counselor – George P. Kent
  • Economic Affairs Counselor – Robert D. Griffiths
  • Public Affairs Counselor – Anne S. Casper
  • Consul General – Ronald Robinson
  • Management Counselor – Rosemary Hansen


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b Channel News Asia. 2008, August 5. "US president's visit to Thailand will likely focus on Myanmar".
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Shawn W. Crispin. 2009, February 14. "When allies drift apart".
  4. ^ Global Research. 2005, February 7. "Tsunami Relief as a Subterfuge? The Pentagon Scrambles to Reenter its Old Thai Air Base”.
  5. ^ Barry R. McCaffrey. May 1997 “The Opium Kings”.
  6. ^ Xinhua. 2003, June 2. "News Analysis: Thai-US ties on an even keel despite difference on Iraq war".
  7. ^ a b c d Shawn W Crispin. 2008, September 7. “What Obama means to Bangkok”.
  8. ^ Gunarantna et al., 2005, pp. 94–96.
  9. ^ a b Kenneth J. Conboy. 1988, March 8. “Cracks Appear -in the U.S. -Thai Relationship”. Heritage Asian Studies Backgrounder #75.
  10. ^ Bangkok Post. 2005, July 11. “Free or even fair?”.
  11. ^ a b c Steward, Gene and Roggemann, Ellen. 2005. “Trading Away Livelihoods”. ENGAGE
  12. ^ AFP. 2001, November 9. “WTO-Thailand-protest: Thai farmers and activists rally against WTO, US”.
  13. ^ Wayne M. Morrison. 2003, March 28. “Thailand-U.S. Economic Relations: An Overview". Congressional Research Service.
  14. ^ Stratfor. 2003, October 18. “U.S.-Thai Relations To Improve Bangkok's Regional Standing."


  • Gunaratna, Rohan, Acharya, Arabinda, and Chua, Sabrina. 2005. Conflict and Terrorism in Southern Thailand. Marshall Cavendish Academic.

PD-icon.svg This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Department of State (Background Notes).[1]

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